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andrewbroad Jun 23rd, 2013 10:22 PM

Andrew's eyewitness reports & photos (summary-reports)
 
AEGON CLASSIC (Edgbaston, Birmingham, England; grass; WTA International)
Contents

I don’t have time to finish my full point-by-point reports or post my photos until after Wimbledon, so for now, here’s a brief summary of each match for which a full report is forthcoming:

1. Monday 10th: First round: South v Rybáriková
2. Tuesday 11th: First round: Dellacqua v Hantuchová
3. Tuesday 11th: Second round: Vekić v U.Radwańska
4. Wednesday 12th: Second round: Robson v Hantuchová
5. Wednesday 12th: Second round: Lisicki v Kr.Plíšková
6. Wednesday 12th: Second round: Johansson v Rybáriková
7. Thursday 13th: Third round: Hantuchová v Mladenović
8. Thursday 13th: Third round: Flipkens v Rybáriková
9. Thursday 13th: Third round: Lisicki v Lučić-Baroni
10. Friday 14th: Quarter-final: Cîrstea v Vekić
11. Friday 14th: Quarter-final: Rybáriková v Keys
12. Friday 14th: Quarter-final: Hantuchová v Schiavone
13. Friday 14th/Saturday 15th: Quarter-final: Lisicki v Riske
14. Saturday 15th: Semi-final: Rybáriková v Vekić
15. Saturday 15th: Semi-final: Riske v Hantuchová
16. Sunday 16th: Final: Vekić v Hantuchová


1. First round: South v Rybáriková (Monday 10th June 2013)

+ MAGDALÉNA RYBÁRIKOVÁ [16,EF] d. Melanie South [WC], 6-4 6-2

After a bit of a shaky start that saw her facing three break-points at 0:0 *0-1, Magda comfortably saw off the British wild card with a beautiful performance.

Magda is a joy to watch, because all her strokes look as smooth as silk, and she has such a unique flair:
  • She hit her groundstrokes sweetly and with pinpoint precision, as several of her shots clipped the lines with puffs of titanium pigment.
  • She played an all-court game, sometimes serving and volleying, or otherwise going to the net. She hit some delectable drop-volleys.
  • She hit a mixture of two-handed backhands and sliced backhands, even hitting a clean winner with the latter.
Magda also got a loud cheer from the crowd by retrieving a ball that had got stuck behind the board that displays the speed of the last serve.


2. First round: Dellacqua v Hantuchová (Tuesday 11th June 2013)

+ Daniela Hantuchová [EF] d. Casey Dellacqua [Q], 6-1 7-6 (7/1)

Daniela won the first set easily as Dellaqua played very poorly, but Dellacqua played much better in the second set. In particular, Dellacqua served very well; there were no breaks in the second set, though Dellacqua saved three break-points in the first game, and Daniela saved one at *3-4.

Daniela dominated the tiebreak, winning 5 of her 7 points with clean winners: two crosscourt forehands, a crosscourt backhand, a backhand dropshot, and a down-the-line forehand at match-point.


3. Second round: Vekić v U.Radwańska (Tuesday 11th June 2013)

+ Donna Vekić [DF] d. URSZULA RADWAŃSKA [8], 6-3 6-2

This was my first time to see Vekić play, and I was very impressed. In an era of women’s tennis in which it is increasingly difficult for teenagers to make an impact on the WTA tour, Vekić is the best 16-year-old that I’ve seen in several years – perhaps even the best since Maria Sharapova made her breakthrough at Birmingham 2003.

Vekić hits her groundstrokes very hard, especially compared with most of the women that I watched at Birmingham 2013. She also hits her groundstrokes with pinpoint precision, and was able to boss the rallies against the younger Radwańska sister.

Vekić’s on-court presence is that of a champion in the making: to me at least, she seemed very poised and confident throughout, and to be enjoying the adventure – in contrast to her opponent.

Urszula Radwańska is an attractive all-court player, who won the Girls’ Singles at Wimbledon 2007, and upset defending champion Sabine Lisicki at this stage of Birmingham 2012. Against Vekić, however, she played very poorly – partly because Vekić didn’t allow her to play well, but she also made a lot of unforced errors, and failed to impose her game on Vekić.

Urszula wasn’t as outwardly emotional as I have come to expect from her (her only complaint came when Vekić hit a winner that was clearly wide), but her body-language was pretty negative by the end – I think she was crying at the final changeover.

The most telling moments were when Vekić served for the first set at *5-3, and for the match at 1:0 *5-2. On both occasions, she trailed 15/30, but responded with three winners in a row – yes, that’s six clean winners, including an ace on the centre-line at match-point. This girl has star-power.


4. Second round: Robson v Hantuchová (Wednesday 12th June 2013)

+ Daniela Hantuchová [EF] d. LAURA ROBSON [7,DF], 6-3 6-4

These two played one of the most memorable matches of Wimbledon 2009, when Daniela recovered from 3-6 2-3* to beat the then-15-year-old Robson 3-6 6-4 6-2 in a match that was wonderful both for the quality of play and for being a nail-biting contest.

This was a poor sequel, failing to live up to that Wimbledon 2009 encounter on both counts, which I believe was due to the windy conditions. Daniela played okay, but Robson was a pale shadow of her dangerous best.

It was actually raining during the penultimate game, as Robson served to stay in the match at 0:1 *3-5, but they played through it, and it eased off just before Daniela served for the match.


5. Second round: Lisicki v Kr.Plíšková (Wednesday 12th June 2013)

+ SABINE LISICKI [5,EF] d. Kristýna Plíšková, 6-4 6-2

This was a match between two big servers, played at a breakneck pace, with very short rallies, most of them consisting only of a serve and an attempted return. When they did play some longer rallies, Sabine seemed very eager to finish them with dropshots.

To be honest, I’m disappointed that the flairsome power that Kristýna showed in winning the Wimbledon 2010 Girls’ Singles didn’t match up well with Sabine’s powerful yet vividly tactical game in terms of giving us longer, more entertaining rallies. It was all crash-bang-wallop, like a men’s match from the mid-1990s.

There were three breaks of serve in this match: all of them against Plíšková. Sabine broke in the seventh game of the first set, and ran away with the match from 1:0 2-2*, as a frustrated Plíšková threw her racket down at the changeovers after Sabine broke for *3-2 and *5-2.


6. Second round: Johansson v Rybáriková (Wednesday 12th June 2013)

+ MAGDALENA RYBÁRIKOVÁ [16,EF] d. Mathilde Johansson, 7-5 6-7 (4/7) 6-4

I watched this match from its resumption from the rain-delay at 1:1 *3-2 (having chosen to watch Daniela Hantuchová and Sabine Lisicki’s Centre Court matches before the rain-delay, when I thought that it would be too difficult to get a seat on Court 4).

Magda almost choked against one of the biggest chokers on the WTA tour, as she failed to serve out the match at 1:0 *5-4, and again at 1:1 5-3*. She looked very worried coming out of the rain-delay, but it was Johansson who ended up frustrated: shouting in French and throwing her racket as Magda pegged her back from 1:1 *4-5 30/0 to close out the match in that game, inducing a series of errors with her depth and some sliced backhands.


7. Third round: Hantuchová v Mladenović (Thursday 13th June 2013)

+ Daniela Hantuchová [EF] d. KRISTINA MLADENOVIĆ [12], 3-6 7-6 (8/6) 6-4

It was a tremendous fightback by Daniela against the big-serving Mladenović, who served five aces in a row from *4-2 0/0 to *5-3 15/0 in the first set, led 1:0 2-0*, served for the match at 1:0 *6-5 30/30, and was also two points from victory at 1:0 6-6 [5/5*, *6/6]. Mladenović also led 1:1 *2-0 40/30.

Daniela turned the match around when she realised that Mladenović was struggling with low balls, so she gave her plenty of those, as well as hitting winners.

There was a 3˝-hour rain-delay at 0:1 *3-3 40/0, after which it was so cold and windy that Daniela completed the match in tracksuit-bottoms.


8. Third round: Flipkens v Rybáriková (Thursday 13th June 2013)

+ MAGDALÉNA RYBÁRIKOVÁ [16,EF] d. KIRSTEN FLIPKENS [1], 7-6 (7/5) 6-2

The top-seeded Flipkens was ripe for the upset, as she was struggling with a knee-injury, and had only just scraped past #155-ranked Ajla Tomljanović 4-6 6-4 7-5 on Wednesday evening.

Magda duly obliged with one of the finest performances of her career that I’ve seen at Birmingham: plenty of winners, big serves, volleys, dropshots, and sliced backhands to mess up Flipkens’s rhythm.

The match was played in the humble setting of Court 1, which was an insult to both the top seed and the former champion, especially as the new Centre Court is so close that everything said by the umpire and the MC can be heard on the outside courts.

Magda does seem to be easily distracted by external noises. At one point, a spectator was talking loudly into his mobile phone; Magda stared at him, prompting the umpire to admonish him.

Magda broke serve in the opening game, and hence served for the first set at *5-4, but Flipkens found her best tennis of the match to break back, and then to earn five set-points on Magda’s serve at *5-6. Magda saved all five with clean winners, despite the distraction of Sorana Cîrstea’s on-court interview booming out across the outside courts as she prepared to face the fifth.

The noise from Centre Court appeared to annoy Magda more than Flipkens, and may have contributed to Magda going 0/4* down in the tiebreak. However, she won six points in a row to reach double set-point, and converted the second.

In the second set, Magda faced two break-points at *2-2 15/40, but saved them both with service-winners. She broke for *4-2 with a dropshot-winner from the baseline, held for 5-2* with four service-winners, and let an erratic Flipkens beat herself in the last game.


9. Third round: Lisicki v Lučić-Baroni (Thursday 13th June 2013)

+ SABINE LISICKI [5,EF] d. Mirjana Lučić-Baroni, 7-5 2-6 6-4

Like Sabine’s second-round match against Kristýna Plíšková, this was another big-serving contest, although they did at least have some longer rallies in this one.

Played on a very cold evening after a 3˝-hour rain-delay earlier in the day, the first set was serve-dominated, with Sabine breaking in the twelfth game.

Sabine lost her way badly in the second set, while Lučić-Baroni – who reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon 1999 as a 17-year-old – played very well, bossing several of the rallies with some acute-angled crosscourt forehands to the sideline.

Sabine took a bathroom-break at the start of the third set, by which time it was getting dark. She was broken in the opening game, but broke back immediately. The third set was very tense, with Sabine having to save break-points at *3-3 and *4-4. Finally, she broke serve to seal victory in the tenth game.


10. Quarter-final: Cîrstea v Vekić (Friday 14th June 2013)

+ Donna Vekić [DF] d. SORANA CÎRSTEA [3], 6-2 6-1

This match took over five hours to complete, as it suffered three rain-delays (0:0 3-2*, 0:0 5-2*, 1:0 2-1* 40/15* – I didn’t watch it after the third rain-delay, as my vows of Eternal Fanship obliged me to go to Court 3 for Rybáriková v Keys).

After a *0-2 start, Vekić overpowered the third-seeded Cîrstea, who was by far the more unhappy of the two girls about having to play in a constant drizzle (before the third rain-delay), and about the somewhat slippery court.

Once again, I was very impressed by Vekić, who is the best 16-year-old that I can remember watching since Maria Sharapova in 2003. Vekić has a good serve and big groundstrokes, though perhaps not much variety at this stage of her career. She reminds me of Jelena Dokić – the 16-year-old who thrashed world #1 Martina Hingis 6-2 6-0 at Wimbledon 1999 – in both looks and play.


11. Quarter-final: Rybáriková v Keys (Friday 14th June 2013)

+ MAGDALÉNA RYBÁRIKOVÁ [16,EF] d. Madison Keys, 6-3 6-0

Sadly, this match was moved to Court 3 after the tournament lost four hours of play to rain, but Magda had a nice, easy win against the young American, who was probably tired after two third-set tiebreaks earlier in the week, and couldn’t handle Magda’s unusual mixture of big serves, big forehands, sliced backhands, dropshots and net-play.

Magda’s only hiccup came when she served for the first set at *5-2, and was distracted when the peg that attaches the bottom of the net to the centre-point of the court came undone. She dropped that service-game, but then won every game left in the match.


12. Quarter-final: Hantuchová v Schiavone (Friday 14th June 2013)

+ Daniela Hantuchová [EF] d. FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE [15], 6-7[/b] (10/8) 6-4 7-6 (7/3)

This was an amazing fightback for Daniela, who looked very tired after losing a first-set tiebreak in which she had set-point, struggled with a right-foot injury (she took a medical time-out to have it bandaged), and trailed 0:1 *1-4, 1:1 *0-3, and 1:1 6-6 0/3*.

Daniela did hit a lot of groundstroke-winners, including some of her trademark backhands down the line. She hit some good serves and volleys. She looked much more powerful than the diminutive Schiavone, who sliced all her backhands, and tried to tire Daniela out with long rallies.

Daniela played an unbelievably brilliant third-set tiebreak to win the last seven points of the match from 0/3*, including a crosscourt forehand winner that clipped the outside edge of the sideline, a backhand drop-volley winner, an off-forehand winner, and a down-the-line forehand pass-winner onto the sideline.


13. Quarter-final: Lisicki v Riske (Friday 14th/Saturday 15th June 2013)

- SABINE LISICKI [5,EF] lt. Alison Riske [Q], 6-7 (2/7) 6-2 4-6

Sadly, this match was moved to Court 1 when Hantuchová v Schiavone went to a third set with only two hours of light remaining on Friday night. I moved to Court 1 after that match, and found this one in the first game of the second set.

Riske may have been a qualifier ranked #167, but she excels at Birmingham, having reached the semi-finals in 2010 and taken a set off Maria Sharapova, and the quarter-finals in 2011. Amazingly, Riske has never won a main-draw singles-match at any other WTA tournament. She’s a big hitter who loves to go to the net – a style of play that is particularly suited to grass.

Having missed the first set, but knowing that it had no breaks, I can only imagine that it was another big-hitting, serve-dominated affair like Sabine’s previous two matches. Sabine looked unhappy when I arrived.

Sabine broke in the first game of the second set after several deuces, and then proceeded to dominate that set with her big serve, also overpowering Riske in the baseline-rallies. Particularly memorable was the game at 0:1 3-1*, which Sabine opened with a running crosscourt forehand pass-winner, and broke serve with a backhand volley-winner. She won the set on a dead netcord-winner.

The start of the third set was much more worrying, as Sabine found herself facing break-points at *0-1 (30/40, Ad Riske). She served her way out of trouble, and the match was suspended overnight at 1:1 2-2*.

The match resumed on Saturday morning on Court 1. I’m not sure why it wasn’t moved to Centre Court: perhaps because enough rain was forecast to make completing the semi-finals doubtful, or perhaps because one of the players (I assume it would have been Riske) insisted on completing the match on the same court on which it had started.

On the resumption, the first three games were holds to 15, then Sabine saved a break-point at *3-4, and then there was a one-hour rain-delay at 1:1 *3-4 Deuce #1.

On the second resumption, Sabine hit a service-winner and an ace to level up at 4-4*, but found herself serving to stay in the match at *4-5.

At *4-5 15/15, Sabine indulged in a protracted argument with the umpire, and demanded to meet the referee. I found out later that Sabine was complaining because during the 15/0 point, Riske had yelled in celebration after hitting a winning crosscourt backhand drive-volley – but Sabine managed to clip it with her racket just after the yell. Sabine had no chance of retrieving that shot, but technically she still had a play on it, so she should have been awarded the point.

The argument certainly didn’t do Sabine any good, as she made two unforced errors to give Riske double match-point. Sabine saved the first match-point with an ace, but Riske converted the second with a down-the-line backhand return-winner.


14. Semi-final: Rybáriková v Vekić (Saturday 15th June 2013)

- MAGDALÉNA RYBÁRIKOVÁ [16,EF] lt. Donna Vekić [DF], 6-7 (5/7) 6-1 3-6

This was a very entertaining match with some great rallies, though it also had two rain-delays (at 0:0 *4-3 and 0:1 *5-1).

Vekić is the best 16-year-old that I’ve seen in a decade – probably since Maria Sharapova in 2003. She has a good serve and big groundstrokes, and also threw in a little bit of variety such as dropshots in this match.

I thought that Magda would unsettle Vekić with her unusual mixture of two-handed and sliced backhands, baseline-play and net-play, but most of the time, it seemed that Magda was trying to match Vekić’s blistering pace with some of her own. Magda’s sliced backhands did little to hurt Vekić, and although Magda did enjoy some success at the net, she struggled to handle the pace of Vekić’s groundstrokes there at other times.

The first set was tight and well-contested; Magda made some crucial errors from 4/4* in the tiebreak.

The match turned on Vekić’s service-game at 1:0 *0-1, where she squandered three game-points, served three double faults, and Magda broke after five deuces – partly thanks to a backhand drop-volley winner.

Magda saved break-points at 0:1 *2-0 15/40 with a crosscourt forehand volley-winner and another crosscourt forehand winner, then stormed through the second set 6-1, hitting several winners as Vekić went off the boil.

At 1:1 0-0* 30/0*, they played an amazing rally in which Magda slipped, hit a forehand while she was still on her knees, but ended up netting a backhand volley. That was perhaps the turning-point, as Vekić came through a tough service-game of two deuces.

At 1:1 *2-3 30/40, they played another amazing rally, in which Vekić hit a testing down-the-line backhand pass off a forehand smash from Magda, who then picked off a marvellous forehand dropshot-winner.

It was all in vain, however, as Vekić still went on to break in that game, and, in due course, to serve for the match at 1:1 *5-3. Magda had a break-back point but hit a crosscourt forehand just wide, and, after two deuces, Vekić sealed victory with a crosscourt backhand winner onto the baseline.


15. Semi-final: Riske v Hantuchová (Saturday 15th June 2013)

+ Daniela Hantuchová [EF] d. Alison Riske [Q], 5-7 6-1 6-4

I was worried that Daniela might be too tired for this match after her three-hour marathon with Francesca Schiavone the previous evening, or that she might not have recovered from her right-foot injury, but it was another amazing fightback for her.

Played in very cold conditions, the match suffered a rain-delay with Riske serving at 0:0 *3-4 15/15. Daniela played in tracksuit-bottoms before the rain-delay, though she took them off after it.

Riske is a grass-court specialist, who plays very aggressively and loves to go to the net. She reached the semi-finals of Birmingham 2010 (where she took a set off Maria Sharapova), and the quarter-finals of Birmingham 2011 (where Daniela beat her), despite having never won a main-draw singles-match in any other WTA tournament.

Riske won the first set 7-5 on the strength of a break in the eleventh game, sealing the set with a crosscourt forehand winner onto the sideline.

Daniela stepped it up amazingly after that, hitting a series of crosscourt forehand winners just inside the sideline as she took the second set 6-1. She continued to hit big serves and groundstroke winners in the third set.

Daniela was in a spot of bother early in the third set, facing a break-point at *0-1, but she got out of that service-game with two service-winners and an ace.

Daniela broke for 1:1 *4-3 as her dipping return forced the serve-volleying Riske to net a half-volley. In due course, she served for the match at *5-4, sealing victory with an ace.


16. Final: Vekić v Hantuchová (Sunday 16th June 2013)

+ Daniela Hantuchová [EF] d. Donna Vekić [DF], 7-6 (7/5) 6-4

As a Daniela fan, I had waited a long time for this moment: finally to win her first grass-court singles-title at my favourite WTA tournament. It was about time that she joined Jelena Dokić, Maria Sharapova, Vera Zvonarëva, Magdaléna Rybáriková and Sabine Lisicki as members of my Eternal Fanship to win this tournament.

Perhaps I will one day count Donna Vekić in that number, for she is the best 16-year-old that I have seen since Maria Sharapova in 2003 – and even Maria only reached the semi-finals when she made her WTA breakthrough at Birmingham that year. Vekić has a good serve and big groundstrokes, and had overpowered a series of far more experienced opponents to get this far.

Daniela had come through some very tough matches to reach the final – especially a three-hour marathon quarter-final against Francesca Schiavone, in which she had struggled with a right-foot injury, and had looked down and out.

But Daniela hit form just at the right time: her serve and forehand were working especially well, and she looked incredibly dedicated and determined – I even saw her practising her serve in the pouring rain on Saturday morning.

The first set was very closely contested. Vekić played a poor service-game to give Daniela a break for *4-3, but Vekić broke straight back to love with two forehand winners.

Those were the only two breaks in the first set, which went to a tiebreak. Daniela almost blew a 5/2* lead as she missed a forehand after easily reaching a dropshot, and got pegged back to *5/5, but she painted the sideline with a crosscourt forehand winner, and Vekić got a code-violation for racket-abuse after she netted a backhand to give Daniela the first set.

In the second set, Daniela played a horrible service-game to give Vekić a break for *2-1, but Vekić took a medical time-out for a trapped rib, and Daniela broke back with a pinpoint forehand winner down the line.

The rest of the second set went with serve until Vekić served to stay in the match at *4-5: Daniela opened that game with one of her trademark backhand winners down the line, and, from 40/30, her depth forced Vekić to miss three backhands in a row.

--
Dr. Andrew Broad


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